“It’s a very small increase, but it was totally necessary,” said Mayor Bob Scott, who proposed the hike. “For years and years, the town and county both have talked about having such a low tax rate and all, and it just finally caught up with the town. If we’re going to provide services, we need to have the money to provide those services, and we need to have a cushion to provide for emergencies and contingencies.”
Former manager Warren Cabe had favored a 1-cent increase, Scott said, but he felt it needed to be a little bit higher to accomplish the goal. Increasing the property tax by 2 cents will net the town $120,000 more per year. On a $200,000 house, that means paying $40 more per year, with the total town property tax bill increasing from $500 to $540.
The money is not intended for any specific purpose, Scott said, but will rather act as a cushion to allow the county to prepare for emergencies and fiscal surprises. Part of the extra cash will go to plug the hole left where business license fees are now. A recently enacted state law will prevent municipalities from collecting the fees after July 1, 2015. In Franklin, they account for $35,000 of the $8 million budget.
“Quite frankly, we’re headed for some rough times right now, municipalities are,” Scott said.
The board discussed the increase at a work session and then made the vote in its regular June meeting, passing it unanimously and without discussion.
Only one member of the public voiced an opinion about the increase. Angela Moore, a former town board candidate, was not happy about it.
“Two millage points, it sounds small that way, but it’s an 8 percent tax increase, which is a lot,” Moore said. “It puts us just shy of the county tax rate, which, considering that we pay county taxes as well and the county provides services to us, for the town to be charging the same amount is a little bit outrageous.”
The Macon County property tax is 28 cents per $100, likely to jump to 38, so Franklin town residents will be paying a total of 66 cents per $100 in property taxes. However, Scott points out, that’s low compared with other towns in the region. Waynesville’s property tax is set at 40 cents, and the town board is considering boosting it to 43. In Bryson City, it’s 35 cents.
“This is a very, very minor raise,” Scott said. “If it had been 10 or 15 cents, that would have just slammed people, but it’s not.”
However, countered Moore, it’s not necessary to have any increase at all. She cited “nonessential” expenditures such as festivals, Pickin’ on the Square, charitable contributions and public buildings that she believes could have been constructed on a tighter budget as examples of ways the town could trim the fat without raising taxes. But in Scott’s view, those are the things that make Franklin a desirable place to live, in turn attracting more residents and revenue.
“There was a time when businesses and industry looked very much at low tax rates,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be as important in this day and time as what services are provided by local government, the quality of the services.”
Moore was not happy, either, that the aldermen passed the budget without any discussion after hearing her comments.
“It seems like it was an easy decision for them that didn’t involve a lot of thought,” she said.
Not so, said Scott. He’s not happy about a higher tax rate, he said, but it’s the necessary thing to do.
“I hated to do it,” he said. “I pay taxes too. When I know the quality of the services I’m getting, I’m OK.”